Electric Prayer

The Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass, and other things.

The hiccup in Ordinary Time

Posted by universalis on 17 May 2013

Someone has asked me why, after the four-week psalm cycle got to week I on Shrove Tuesday before it was interrupted by Lent and Eastertide, it now continues directly to week III. I thought that other people might have the question but not be asking it, so here is the answer.

The first week of Ordinary Time begins on the Sunday after 6 January. The last week of Ordinary Time ends the day before the Sunday after 26 November. There isn’t a whole number of weeks between 6 January and 26 November, so in some years there is room for 34 weeks of Ordinary Time and in some years there is only room for 33. (Two out of seven normal years are ‘long’ ones, and three out of seven leap years).

The liturgy provides for 34 weeks of Ordinary Time, just in case. You might think that ‘short’ years would just use weeks 1 to 33, but they don’t. This is because the final weeks of Ordinary Time are very much a run-up to the coming of the Lord and leaving out the very last week (a sort of prologue to Advent) would make no sense.

So the weeks of Ordinary Time are numbered upwards, 1, 2, 3,… from the beginning until Lent interrupts it; and they are numbered backwards 34, 33, 32,… from the end all the way back to Pentecost.

This means that the hiccup of the omitted week is swallowed up in the greater hiccup of Lent and Eastertide and nobody notices it – except for people who come back to their books and see that the bookmark is in the wrong place!

Before the reforms of the 1970s, the calendar was a bit different, in two ways. The time after the Epiphany and the time after Pentecost were treated as two separate units, which meant that they both varied in length quite a lot. Any necessary omissions always preserved the last three weeks before Lent and the last week before Advent, and because years with a long Pentecost season have a short Epiphany season, in those years the extra weeks after Pentecost borrowed readings from the unused weeks after Epiphany.

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2 Responses to “The hiccup in Ordinary Time”

  1. rtm55 said

    I’m very glad you tackled this question — I was going to write you and ask about it! A few months ago in looking at the MIssalette (spelling?), I guessed that Ordinary Time must be counted backwards from the end of the Liturgical Year and that the “missing” Ordinary Time weeks got swallowed up in Eastertide. It was the only thing that made sense. I depend mainly on the Universalis calendar, as well certain directions in the Breviary, to point me to the right place in the Psalter cycle. The Universalis Calendar is a godsend for much useful information. Thanks! RM

  2. Lynden Rodriguez said

    I had not noticed this before. I love to learn things about the LOHs. It has such wealth of spirituality and historical value. Thank you.

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